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Celebrities honored to help Vitale gala

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Published:   |   Updated: May 18, 2013 at 08:12 PM
SARASOTA -

For Dick Vitale's guests of honor Friday night, the eighth annual gala to benefit the V Foundation for Cancer Research was personal.

Former Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden and ex-UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun said they were thrilled to be invited to the annual fundraising event at the Ritz-Carlton, where more than 800 guests saw Vitale fight off tears while describing the impact of cancer on young lives.

“You are so courageous,'' the ESPN college basketball analyst said, addressing stricken children in the audience. “To go through what you do is special.''

Through Vitale's relentless efforts, more than $10 million has been raised in research and to help defray some costs for families battling cancer.

Three Buccaneers — running back Doug Martin, linebacker Dekoda Watson and kicker Connor Barth — attended Friday's dinner, along with new Lightning coach Jon Cooper and new University of South Florida football coach Willie Taggart.

“It was an honor to be asked,'' Cooper said. “I wouldn't miss it for the world.''

Vitale became involved in the cause after the death of former North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN colleague Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 47.

Standing between Bowden, Calhoun and Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, Vitale put sports in perspective.

“These guys up here lost games and they thought it was the end of the world,'' Vitale said. “It was the worst feeling you could have. But you're going to get another game to coach, another play to diagram. Others are not going to get that chance.''

Bowden, 83, was treated for prostate cancer in 2007.

“I doubt there's a person in here who's not involved with cancer in your family,'' he said. “And I'd like to thank Dick Vitale for ramrodding this thing through.''

Self generated a few early laughs before turning serious.

“I've learned something here tonight already,'' Self said. “I didn't know Dick was emotional. I'm honored and humbled to be a small part of this. We get so hung up on coaching a game and being competitive with each other. Imagine what we could do if we joined forces to be competitive against this disease?''

Calhoun, 71, said Valvano would have “gone on to do so many more special things,'' had he overcome cancer.

“This hits home for me,'' Calhoun said. “We're speaking out for those who can't speak, because we're public figures. As a three-time cancer survivor, you think you want a good diagnosis after a game? I'd rather get a good diagnosis on a CT scan.''

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